Over the years, there have been rumors and gossip about Jimmy Fallon’s allegedly unhealthy “relationship with alcohol,” with a 2016 report saying that NBC chiefs had asked “The Tonight Show” host to cut back on his drinking over concerns that he was “out of control.”
In a lengthy new report by Rolling Stone, staffers suggest that that this unhealthy relationship is still an issue and has contributed to his erratic behavior on the set, which, in turn, has helped turn “The Tonight Show” into “a toxic workplace — far outside the boundaries of what’s considered normal in the high-pressure world of late-night TV.”
Two employees told Rolling Stone that they had seen the outwardly affable and goofy Fallon “seemingly inebriated” at work in 2017. Another two employees say on separate occasions in 2019 and 2020 they thought they smelled alcohol on Fallon’s breath when they entered an elevator with him during the workday.
Eight former employees also told Rolling Stone that Fallon’s behavior seemed to depend on if he appeared to be hungover from the night before.
“When something was wrong, we all knew how to behave afterward, which was just sort of avoid eye contact and don’t make another mistake,” a former staffer said. “It would happen over the smallest thing… . We would have to shut the whole thing down, the sketch isn’t happening, and when things like that would happen, you would just beat yourself up.”
The Rolling Stone report involved the input of two current and 14 former employees, who said it’s common knowledge “behind the scenes” that there are “good Jimmy days” — where the host’s “wit and charm and creativity are on full display” — and “bad Jimmy days.”
The report also comes as “The Tonight Show” and other late-night shows have been dark since May when Hollywood writers went on strike. The strike-related hiatus has raised concerns about the future of the show, which represents one of TV’s most storied franchises, the Rolling Stone report said.
If or when production resumes, staffers say they hope the network will finally address “the ugly environment” at the show, which they say has negatively impacted some employees’ mental health. They say the toxicity starts at the top with Fallon’s “erratic behavior” and trickles down to its ever-changing leadership teams “who seemingly don’t know how to say no” to the host.
Former employees said that they were often belittled and intimidated by their bosses, including Fallon himself. These employees also described being afraid of Fallon’s “outbursts” and unexpected, inconsistent behavior and said it spoiled their “dream” of working on “The Tonight Show.”
Rumors about Fallon’s relationship with alcohol gained public notice with a 2016 report by Page Six. The story was prompted by a series of off-set incidents that involved the host and his alleged abuse of alcohol. In 2015, Fallon tripped on a rug at home and nearly severed his ring finger on a table. Then, a few months later, he chipped his tooth “trying to open medicine for his injured finger.” That same year, he also reportedly cut his hand on a bottle of Jägermeister, while he was seen “very drunk” while alone at a New York City punk bar at 3 a.m. the following year.
For the Page Six report, a Fallon source said: “He is a heavy drinker. He sees himself as somebody who needs image rehabilitation.” Another friend insisted that Fallon “knows he needs to be responsible. He has two kids. He has cut back on his drinking.”
Fallon denied having a drinking problem in a 2017 New York Times profile, saying, “I could never do a day-to-day job if I was drinking every night. That’s just kicking you when you’re down.”
Representatives for Fallon would not comment on the record for the Rolling Stone story. A spokesperson for NBC defended the program, though did not mention Fallon himself in their statement, Rolling Stone said.
“We are incredibly proud of ‘The Tonight Show,’ and providing a respectful working environment is a top priority,” the spokesperson said. “As in any workplace, we have had employees raise issues; those have been investigated and action has been taken where appropriate. As is always the case, we encourage employees who feel they have experienced or observed behavior inconsistent with our policies to report their concerns so that we may address them accordingly.”